MVC, raises, sewering to face Edgartown voters
Edgartown voters are called to the Old Whaling Church at 7 pm this Tuesday, Oct, 27, to take care of business both new and old at a special town meeting.
Voters will be asked to pay Edgartown's share of the fiscal year 2010 Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) operating budget four months after the start of the fiscal year on July 1; give town employees a cost of living raise not originally included in this year's operating budget; authorize a costly extension of the sewer system; and buy two new police cruisers.
Five percent of the town's 3,140 registered voters, or 157 voters, is needed for a quorum. The previous effort for a special town meeting, on June 18, did not achieve a quorum.
The first article on the warrant revisits the MVC budget. Prior to the town's annual town meeting in the spring, both the board of selectmen and the financial advisory committee expressed displeasure at the size of the MVC budget, and the commission's decision to include substantial raises to MVC employees at a time when Edgartown was holding the line on town spending and eliminating cost of living adjustments for town employees.
The six Island town's MVC assessments are based on a percentage of equalized property valuation. Edgartown pays the biggest share of MVC operating expenses. The assessment for fiscal year 2010 is $274,000. The next largest MVC assessment to Edgartown's is Chilmark's, at $129,269.
Last spring, the finance advisory committee, with the support of the board of selectmen, put the regional planning agency's annual assessment on the ballot as an override question in the spring election even as they conceded that the town was legally obligated to pay it.
In the town election on April 16 voters rejected paying the assessment by a narrow margin. There were 213 yes votes, and 222 no votes.
"The town owes them (the MVC) the money," Michael Donaroma, chairman of the board of selectmen said in a recent conversation with The Times. "Last year we were trying to make the residents of the town aware that in the spirit of working together, they weren't the easiest to work with. We were kind of surprised that they voted against it. I think the selectmen hope they will vote for it this time, to get it paid, get it behind us."
Also on the warrant is a measure to appropriate up to $130,000 to give town employees a three-percent cost of living adjustment. Last fall during budget preparations, the town told employees there would be no cost of living raise included in the 2010 fiscal year operating budget, because of uncertainty over revenue. At that time, town officials said they would reassess the financial situation once the town's financial situation was clearer
Now, a third of the way through the fiscal year, town administrator Pam Dolby has advised selectmen that the town's financial picture is healthy and recommended the three-percent cost of living adjustment. "We said if we have the money," Mr. Donaroma said, "that we would bring it back to the voters and see what they have to say." The raises would take effect November 1.
The big-ticket item on the warrant is a request to appropriate $806,100 to extend the town's sewer system to the Island Grove subdivision off Meetinghouse Way in the Edgartown Great Pond watershed. The article was added to the warrant in an emergency meeting of the selectmen on October 7. At their regular meeting two days earlier, wastewater manager Joe Alosso and the wastewater district commissioners argued that the article ought to be included on the warrant, because the town would be eligible for about $400,000 in federal stimulus grants. Mr. Alosso said that if the article was put off until the annual town meeting in April, it was likely the stimulus money will no longer be available.
Selectmen rejected that argument at their regular meeting, saying the $806,100 spending request is more appropriate for the spring meeting, because voters have often expressed a desire to limit special town meetings to non-monetary issues, or small bookkeeping matters.
But town administrator Pam Dolby, who said she spent a sleepless night thinking about passing up $400,000, found a way to get the article on the warrant. Special town meeting voters will get a chance to vote the sewer project article up or down. The article will also require a Proposition 2.5 ballot question on whether to exclude the debt from the tax levy limit. That vote won't happen until the town election next spring. The article also says that no money may be borrowed or spent before July 1, 2010.
So approval of the article would make the town eligible for federal grants, but that money could not be spent unless voters approve the ballot question next spring.
Selectman Art Smadbeck sees the extension of the sewer system as an environmental issue. "This particular watershed that Island Grove is in, feeds directly into Edgartown Great Pond," Mr. Smadbeck said. "If we can remove that much nitrogen, from 148 homes, we will greatly improve the water quality of Great Pond. That's the biggest bang for the buck for the moment."
Also on the warrant is an article asking voters to appropriate from free cash $58,000 to purchase and equip two new police cruisers. Lieutenant Tony Bettencourt said the purchase of the two cruisers was delayed because of the town's financial uncertainty last spring.
"We were due for those in the last regular town meeting, but with the financial difficulty we thought we would try to get by," said Lieutenant Bettencourt. "We should have replaced these last April. One of them has 100,000 miles, the other one has more than 80,000." Lieutenant Bettencourt says the police department purchases cruisers on a planned rotation, and likes to sell them at about 70,000 miles to get the best resale value and avoid maintenance costs.
Another article asks for $22,991 to replace the phone system at town hall. The current system has failed at least three times in recent months.
Voters will also be asked to direct the board of selectmen to appoint five people to serve staggered terms on the shellfish committee. If approved two members would be commercial fishermen, one member would be engaged in aquaculture, and two would be family permit holders.
Cooper Gilkes, shellfish committee chairman, said the change is designed to make sure that the committee represents all shellfishing interests in the community.
Voters will also weigh in on what to do with the old Edgartown School. An article asks whether to allow selectmen to enter into a long-term lease to house the office of the superintendent of schools. The article also outlines potential classroom space for Island- wide special programming, and conversion of the former cafeteria and related spaces into a community theater. The terms and conditions of any lease would be subject to a later town meeting vote.